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Jaci Velasquez Interview
You are probably familiar with the phrase, 'She is like a fish out of water.' Pop superstar Jaci Velasquez in her own words has lived her entire life in a fishbowl. Touring and singing with her parents since the age of nine and going solo by the time she turned sixteen (1996), Velasquez has been under the spotlight continuously. It is a double edged sword however as I discovered in my recent conversation with her. Despite the challenges of living under a microscope, Velasquez couldn't imagine herself doing anything other than her number one passion music.
"The challenge of growing up in the music industry is I have lived in a fishbowl. I am 26 years old and I have a 'best of' record. That's really weird. I hope you gave it a good review because I gave up my childhood for it," she said.
Velasquez learned what many childhood prodigies have discovered; that once you are a performer you do not get to be just a kid growing up. "(I had) to be extremely responsible at sixteen years old. I never could make the mistakes other kids got to make. Whenever I did make a mistake (she laughs) it was a big deal," she said, placing special emphasis on the word big.
On the flip side, the Latino beauty said, "I have a 'best of record.' I have gotten do everything and anything every little girl ever dreams of. I have felt like Cinderella many times." She rhymed off the movie premiere and the participation in a Billy Graham crusade while still in her teens. "When I look back, I feel that I have led a very charmed life," she said.
Her charmed existence, however, would not spare her from personal heartache and difficult times in her extended family a few years ago. At times her own health suffered significantly and she went through an Elijah-like meltdown questioning where God was despite the fact she had been faithful in serving Him. It was during this time that two songs in her repertoire became very special to her, "Supernatural" and "Lay It Down." Both songs appeared on the Beauty Has Grace CD.
"'Lay It Down' is a song that describes my life and everything that makes me. For so long I have been the kind of person who goes with the flow and everything is great. When I hit bumpy roads I have to learn how to totally rely on God which I am not good at. With my personality I have a need to be controlling. To just lay everything down and put it at God's feet is the hardest thing I have ever had to do," Velasquez said.
Valasquez refered to "Supernatura" as her favorite song. She vulnerably offered up that she wrote the song when she emerged from the shadows of "questioning everything." She said, "I wrote this song when I stopped questioning who God was in my life. It took me about a year to get there. "Supernatural" is about seeing God's face."
Beauty Has Grace marked a change in direction for Velasquez's career. She came out with a more aggressive pop sound and it also represented her first major foray into songwriting. With her strong songwriting skills she once again appears to be following in the footsteps of her father David Velasquez who was acknowledged in 1970 as the recipient of a Dove Award for Most Promising Gospel Talent (now known as New Artist of the Year). The older Velasquez is critically acclaimed for his compositions.
"I have come to a point in my life (when looking back) I have done everything that everybody wanted me to do. I am twenty-six years old and my music and my success does not define me anymore. It took me a long time to get there. It's the best feeling. I write songs that I love and if nobody likes them I am fine with that. If people love (my songs) that's fine," Velasquez said.
"I love the new record (Beauty Has Grace). What's a real bummer is I don't feel enough people got to hear it. It was the best experience making it," Velasquez said. The album was produced in the UK with Martin Terefe (Coldplay, Ron Sexsmith) and Velasquez lived there while writing some of the songs and working in the studio.
She came to life when she said, "Writing in England with all the Swedes, Brits and Norwegians was surreal." Not willing to let her get away with her statement, "Don't get me started on European music." I dug a little deeper. She laughed and then replied, "I love underground British bands. My favorite band right now is The Heart Strings. They are on an indie label from London. I love Swedish bands. I love K T Tunstall (a Scot). My producer (Terefe) worked on her (Tunstall's) record. She is awesome. I love the Cardigans."
Velasquez told me that The Cardigans CD Super Extra Gravity is spinning in her player at the moment. "Have you heard the new record? Oh my gosh it's the best ever," she said, repeating the word ever two more times more effect. She said of the Cardigans, "The record before this (Super Extra Gravity) was amazing. I like the vulnerability in her (Nina Persson's) voice. She gets me if that makes sense. I love her songwriting, her lyrics and her melodies. Her lyrics ring true to my soul."
European influences were at the forefront of the CD Beauty Has Grace. Claes Bjorklund (A-Ha's 2005 Analogue CD) and fellow Swede Andreas Olsson doubled up on synthesizer and guitar. Crister Jansson played percussion and drums while Abel Orta was the bassist. Bjorklund and Olsson also worked on the production side of the album. Bjorklund and producer Terefe combined efforts to play on (and Terefe produced) A-ha's 2005 CD Analogue. In the past, Valesquez described Beauty Has Grace as a hybrid sound that contains elements common to the music of Flaming Lips, Radiohead and Coldplay.
Discussing Velasquez's ring tones for her cell phone provided great insight into her whacky sense of humor and her musical tastes. While describing the different tones she sang each one. "The general ring tone is 'This Love has Taken its Toll on Me," she sang the words to Maroon 5's chart stopper. "If I don't know you that's what rings," she says. She then walks me through the tones for her three closest friends. Before describing the one for her cousin she digresses and talks about the close relationship they share and how they could pass for twins. Velasquez once again bursts into song describing a ring tone that denotes a call from her cousin, "Do you realize-that you have the most beautiful face, do you realize-we're floating in space?" (by The Flaming Lips). Other tones include a song by JoJo and "Wonder Wall" by Oasis. She starts laughing when she sings the song that denotes a call from people she may have dated in the past, "Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?" (Avril Lavigne)
The gifted singer wants you to know that she not only likes music but she loves it. She said, "The only thing that can really move me is a great melody and a great lyric." The day before I spoke to her she had just finished co-writing three songs with a friend. It came on the eve of her preparing to sell her home in a suburb of Nashville. "I found so many pictures and memories that laid out the road map of my life. I was so lonely and nostalgic because of it. Yesterday we wrote three songs that encompass what I was going through. It did not feel right until we had written those songs."
When I mentioned to her that it sounds like she is a sentimental person she asked me incredulously, "Are you kidding me? The problem is I am way too sentimental. I don't mean as in romantic guy-girl but the romance of life. It's over the top (her sentimental side)."
In describing the songs she is writing now Velasquez said, "They are getting a little more edgy now. They are getting a little more progressive production wise. They are what you call aggressive pop." She continued, "I listen to this kind of music and I love it. I like making music that I listen to.
Velasquez the singer/songwriter has also been for the past two years the owner of Apostrophe Records. The label signed Canadian Michael Cook as its first artist and then added Grande Prize. In May Apostrophe Records signed a distribution deal with LZ-7 covering the United States and Canada. The British Hip Hop artist whose music features a lot of DJ scratching and level 10 rhymes represents more of Velasquez expanding her musical horizons. Fans may remember LZ-7 as the lead vocalist for The Tribe. Throughout Europe he has a distribution deal with Survivor Records which represents DJ Kenny Mitchell and Tree63.
Velasquez said she started her own label because, "I have met so many stinking artists that are just amazing and that deserve the chance to be heard. I want to help them because they deserve it."
Fans often only get a chance to catch a glimpse of an artist who lives in the spotlight as Jaci Velasquez does. They often remain something of a mystique. As my conversation with Velasquez revealed however she is just to paraphrase Cyndi Lauper 'A girl who wants to have fun'. She hopes she doesn't come off sounding cheesy when she talks about caring about the young women who come out to her concerts. She speaks enthusiastically about reading historical biographies. She gets super excited when talking about blazing new musical trails for her career. Most of all she loves to laugh and giggle. She is a tremendously gifted young woman who has learned to enjoy life.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.